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Don’t Look Now, The Hitcher and the Power of Existential Horror

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What exactly is an existential horror movie? As with defining a horror overall, the answer is often down to personal choice. We are all scared of different things.

Most of the time. There are certain fears and anxieties that seem to transcend the most common fears, and they’re ones that everyone shares whether they openly admit it or not. No, I’m not talking about spiders or heights – this is more to do with the nature of existence itself. Concerns regarding love, life, death, sex and everything in between. Why am I here? Who am I? What is my place in this world?

Jonathan Glazer directed Under The Skin

The Existential Attitude, as described by Robert C. Solomon, is “a sense of disorientation, confusion, or dread in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world.” Sure, you may be thinking this is a bunch of philosophical baloney, but the truth is it touches something within everyone.

And when put into the context of horror, it is made all the more frightening for it. Great examples include films like Jacob’s Ladder, Marebito, Martyrs, Under The Skin and many more. The best recent examples perhaps, are The Babadook and Under the Shadow, which both deal with a mother’s handling of death and the following grief through tormenting spirits.

Most horror movies are existential in some way. The threat almost always represents something else. Something within. But some horror films reflect this better than others, touching on an uncanny and barely explainable feeling as a result of an individual’s perception-altering experience.

Don’t Look Now – (Nicolas Roeg, 1973)

Don't Look Now starring Donald Sutherland

So much of what existential horror does relates to people being isolated as an individual. That’s what allows them to have the thoughts laid out above, or to question the nature of their existence and the universe they inhabit. Don’t Look Now is a perfect example of this from the offset, as a bereaved couple move to Venice after the death of their young daughter. Most of the film plays out with the couple attempting to get on with life in this new city, and it’s here where the film is at its most effective and unsettling.

John (Donald Sutherland) and Laura (Julie Christie) don’t see their grief take the form of a monster, supernatural entity or serial killer – at least not for most of the film’s running time. Here the parent’s horror manifests itself in the daylight of Venice, in its canals, church bells and winding streets. It creates an inimitable tone that is present across much of Roeg’s filmography, though never quite as effectively as this.

By the time the film’s climax hits, with a revelation that fits some of the pieces together, the audience is overcome with the aforementioned existential attitude. As the “child” John chases throughout Venice is revealed to be a dwarf serial killer who promptly butchers him to death, he experiences an epiphany. He’d been experiencing premonitions of his own death all along, and now his existential crisis comes to a tragic end.

The Hitcher – (Robert Harmon, 1986)

The Hitcher stars Rutger Hauer as John Ryder

The Hitcher takes the individual experience further, as the entire film takes place with our protagonist Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell) alone on the open road. Alone that is except for his tormentor, John Ryder aka The Hitcher, in a truly electrifying performance by Rutger Hauer.

The setup is simple: Jim picks up a hitchhiker, only to soon discover that the man is something of a depraved maniac. Thus commences a movie-long chase, a chase for the thrill of the game – and for Jim’s soul.

If Venice was the platform for John and Laura’s existential anxieties being presented physically in Don’t Look Now, in The Hitcher that role is performed by Ryder – a flesh and blood character. Or is he?

As the film progresses, Ryder comes across as more of an entity than a real person. An irresistible force of moral ambiguity and nihilistic uncertainty. It’s this man and his facets that force Jim to look into himself and think about his darker tendencies. What he’s capable of, or what he’s willing to become.

Jim is eventually driven to chase Ryder himself rather than flee. The hunted becomes the hunter. As Ryder pushes Jim to kill him, his journey is complete. The story closes on Jim leaning against a police car, silhouetted against the night sky and looking very much like The Hitcher himself. He’s confused and disoriented in the face of a meaningless, nihilistic World. The blood, death and murder left in the wake of the psychotic hitcher has been halted. But if Jim has to become more like Ryder in order to stop him, what is the point?

The Quintessential Existential Horror?

The Hitcher is, in my view, the greatest example of existential horror. It touches on all of the aspects discussed here, wrapped up in a simple-but-effective horror tale of a murderous hitchhiker tracking down his prey. The images it creates (featuring some truly beautiful cinematography by John Seale) and the questions it poses result in a truly terrifying concoction worthy of any horror fan’s respect.

What do you think makes a horror movie “existential?” What are your favourite examples? Does it even matter? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

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Exclusive: Confrontational Bewitches and Hypnotizes With “Fade/Into the Burning Dawn”

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Earlier this year, I introduced you readers to Italian synthwave artist Confrontational and his cover of Sabrina’s “Boys (Summertime Love)”. While that track was pure summertime brightness, we recognize that many of you are more interested in the darker side of music, where songs are melancholic yet brimming with a hypnotic sexual tension. To that end, we’ve teamed up once again to bring you the exclusive track premiere of “Fade/Into the Burning Dawn” featuring Tying Tiffany, which you can listen to below.

Melding equal parts of The Cure and John Carpenter, the song pulsates sensually, evoking imagery of electric blue and hot pink lasers piercing through vantablack darkness. Furthermore, the dynamic between the female and male vocals adds a wonderful sense of intimacy. This song was clearly a child of the 80’s that is now grown up and ready to stand on its own.

Confrontational tells Dread Central:
The final chapter in the triptych, once again graced by Branca Studio’s outstanding artwork, recounts the striving for light in spite of the devouring darkness that surrounds us all. Unrequited love, loss of innocence, loss of identity, temptation and anger – the story finally comes to a close. There is a deep and heartfelt sense of longing throughout each of the tracks, a hard-hitting feeling of nostalgia – which is something Tiffany found out to be a constant in my songwriting. I have been a fan of her work for a long time and I am ecstatic to have finally worked together on this. Her unique take on the lyrics is what makes it so very special, and her vocals blending seamlessly with mine throughout the choruses turned it into a true personal favorite. To have Tiffany on the album along with these amazing heroes of mine – Cody, Tobias and Trevor – is simply dream-like, and makes me so very proud to finally share the effort with you all. I look forward to checking out everyone’s comments on this and I can’t wait to bring it to the stage soon!

“Fade/Into the Burning Dawn” comes from Confrontational’s upcoming album The Burning Dawn, which can be pre-ordered via Bandcamp. Guest appearances on the album include Tobias Bernstrup, Cody Carpenter, and more!

Confrontational can be followed at his official website, on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Spotify.

Upcoming tour dates:
January 25 – Milano (TBA)
January 26 – Savona (TBA)
January 27 – Ravenna (Bronson)

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Blumhouse’s New Halloween Will Change The Original Film’s Ending (Slightly)

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As you can imagine, one of the films all of us here at Dread Central are looking forward to the most is Blumhouse’s upcoming sequel to John Carpenter’s Halloween.

The new film is co-written by Danny McBride (as strange as that may sound) and David Gordon Green and will be directed by Green.

Speaking of Kenny Powers himself, Danny McBride, the actor was recently out and about promoting the new season of HBO’s “Vice Principals” and dropped some new insights into Halloween (2018).

“We’re kind of ignoring all the films past the first one,” McBride told Yahoo! “It picks up after the first one, but it’s sort of an alternate reality. It’s as if the first Halloween ended in a slightly different way.”

Really? Interesting… But what about the new film’s tone? Should we be scared, Danny?

“I think you should be very scared,” McBride says. “I mean, this isn’t a comedy at all. I think there was, like, maybe one joke on the page, but the rest is straight horror. So hopefully it gets in people’s heads and keeps them up late at night.”

Sounds good to us!

McBride then talked a bit about how original Halloween star Jamie Lee Curtis came back into the fold for this new installment.

“I think everyone was kind of on the mindset of it’d be a grab to get her, but no one really knew if we would be able to,” McBride said. “So Dave and I just busted our ass on this script to really make that Laurie Strode character something she wouldn’t be able to say no to. When we finished the script, we sent it to her, and she said she was in. So we just flipped out. We were over the moon about her involvement.”

And finally, Kenny Powers spoke a bit about the huge pressures that are on him and his collaborator David Gordon Green with taking on such a beloved series.

“I just hope that we don’t f*** it up and piss people off,” he said. “This is such a diehard fan base. You don’t want horror fans being your enemies because they show up at your house with masks on. We are diehard fans of Halloween. We’re watching all the sequels and where things have taken left turns here and there that maybe bites for fans, and at least trying to deliver what we would have wanted to see. Hopefully, that will line up with most fans.”

What do you think of McBride’s new comments regarding Blumhouse’s Halloween? Do they make you more (or less) excited to check out the new installent?

Make sure to hit us up and let us know in the comments below or on social media!

Halloween (2018) is written by Danny McBride and David Gordon Green with Green directing. Creator and original director John Carpenter will be acting as executive producer on the new film with franchise regular Malek Akkad producing.

Look for the next Halloween film worldwide on October 19, 2018.

Synopsis:
Jamie Lee Curtis returns to her iconic role as Laurie Strode, who comes to her final confrontation with Michael Myers, the masked figure who has haunted her since she narrowly escaped his killing spree on Halloween night four decades ago.

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Exclusive: This Nails Clip Proves Dingy Hospitals Will Always Be Creepy

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Today sees the VOD release of Dark Sky Films’ Nails, the directorial debut of screenwriter and Cinelicious Pics Head of Distribution Dennis Bartok. Following the story of a woman who goes through a near-death car accident only to find herself paralyzed and trapped in her own body. She then becomes convinced that a strange and malevolent entity that she dubs “Nails” is set on destroying her marriage, her family, and, ultimately, her life.

To celebrate the release of the film, we’ve got an exclusive clip that you can watch below. In it, Leah McNamara’s Gemma is walking through the bowels of a hospital when she stumbles across a bed with a working gas mask. When an alarm suddenly goes off, she jumps in surprise, knocking over a nearby tray, spilling sharp instruments across the floor. It’s while she attempts to clean the mess that Nails makes an appearance…

Nails also stars Shauna McDonald, Ross Noble, Steve Wall, and Charlotte Bradley. You can watch the film on iTunes.

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